Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 27, 2012

Keet Seel 5: a sleepless night

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 2:00 pm
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Having thoroughly explored the ruin with Ranger Bill, our awe and wonder were at a peak. The slow trudge back to the campground allowed us to compare notes; impacts on us were profound. Exhausted by what we’d done, humbled by what we’d seen, rest and food and sleep were all we wanted. I vaguely remember quinoa and yummy sauce, raw veggies, lots of water to rehydrate, and crawling into our sleeping bags just after sunset in anticipation of a pre-dawn hike out.

I couldn’t sleep. Sleep is for darkness. My mind was churning with the history of these people, the artifacts they left behind, the stories surrounding every room block and metate and pottery shard. Late that night as the moon began to rise, my body eventually came to terms with the lumpy soil beneath me and the open sky above me, and I dozed lightly on my tarp until after midnight.

Google image of Mexican Spotted Owl, same species as hooted at me in Tsegi Canyon.

Hoo-hoo, hoooo. My eyes flew open. A crow-sized bird sailed silently over me, his silhouette visible against the stars. Hoo-hoo, hoooo. Again. Strong, resonant. I knew what this was — an owl I’ve been hoping to see for three years. A threatened species, with only 2100 individuals remaining in the United States. And here, in this remote canyon in Arizona, a lone Mexican Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) woke me up to give me the delight of hearing its voice. I was beside myself with joy.

May 13, 2012

Mother’s Day sun-up

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:05 am
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Sun’s first rays strike the formations west of Green River Overlook.

When you want to see the sun rise in all its glory, you seek out a high place. Baby Half Dome, a knob of Navajo sandstone in the middle of the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, seemed perfect. I’d been up there for a sunset a couple of years ago and knew I could find my way to the top again. Once you know the combination to the service road gate, all it takes is perseverance, the ability to follow others’ footprints, and some scrambling moves on a couple of sketchy places.

The reward? Three hundred sixty degrees of stunning beauty. Complete and utter silence. Chiaroscuro lighting falling on the basins and river canyons below. A fresher, deeper realization of why I do what I do.

We moms think about our kids on Mother’s Day. I sent this photo via text to my four children as my friend and I stood way up there on top of my little spot. And, in celebration of my own mom, may I say: Mother, all that you have poured into me over the years has paid off in spades. You are beautiful, intelligent, wonderfully supportive, funny, a deeply-motivated lifelong learner, and a very classy lady. Happy Mother’s Day; I love you.

May 8, 2012

A different way to see a park

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:17 am
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He walked into the visitor center with a long white cane and his son at his side, heading for the 4′-by-8′ relief map of Canyonlands National Park. I ambled over to welcome them.

For the next ten minutes I had the privilege of seeing my park as a blind man does, and helping him see it as I do. We both came away richer.

Nerve endings in fingertips number 2500 per square centimeter, the most dense concentration in our body. Here: Green River, Hardscrabble Hill, White Rim Road all stand out on our exquisite relief map.

To answer his question “What’s the terrain like?” I guided his hand to the 43-square-mile mesa top that projects above all the surrounding canyons and had him feel its island-like quality. We spoke of pinyon-juniper pygmy forest, grassland, and gently undulating landscape laid down as ancient sand dunes. His fingertips explored the sheer cliffs that drop a thousand feet to the middle level of this district, where old uranium mining roads lure mountain-bikers and 4WD enthusiasts. I wondered what pictures were forming in his mind.

To his inquiry “Where does all the water go?” I asked him to feel for the lowest part of the map. He traced the Colorado River and Green River with his finger as they meandered lazily through thousands of millennia of sandstone deposits; I described where they meet in the center of Canyonlands for the rush to the Grand Canyon. My own hand passed along the waterways in wonderment.

Moving to another side of the table, the sensitive nerve endings in his fingertips discovered the incised canyons and rock spires of the Needles District as we talked about the people who inhabited that area eight centuries ago. Tales of Butch Cassidy and his outlaw gang hiding out from the law in the Maze District accompanied his exploring the labyrinthine canyons to the west.

On a nearby table, the ridged keratin spiraling away from the top of the bighorn sheep skull disclosed Canyonlands’ ecology. While he will not see this majestic mammal, he knows it’s here and might pick up hoof-fall on the talus slopes below our overlooks. Likewise, his cheeks will discern the tiny breezes that I ignore, sight being the sense that dominates. He’ll hear the vast miles of openness; he’ll know south by a sun-warmed face.

Satisfied with their orientation, son and father went forth to explore. I watched them go, deeply warmed by this duo’s anticipation of adventure and discovery in wild places, and by their refusal to let an impairment be an obstacle.

+++++++++

[N.B.: The thousands of images that came up when I googled “white cane,” or “white cane + wilderness,” were entirely urban. Leave a comment about pushing your own limits and what came of it.] 


April 11, 2012

Strange things happen in national parks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:23 pm
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From our “Inside NPS” Morning Report today:

Blue Ridge Parkway 
Two Suffer Hallucinogenic Mushroom Overdoses
On the evening of March 31st, rangers were dispatched to the Craggy Gardens picnic area in response to a 911 call concerning a probable drug overdose. Upon arrival, they found a man and woman parked in a vehicle, both exhibiting an altered mental status. They said that they’d ingested psilocybin mushrooms, with the woman adding that she was dead and had no pulse. Rangers and EMS personnel began an assessment and noted that the woman was suffering from periodic convulsive events. At one point, she jumped from the stretcher, climbed into the rear seat of a patrol car, exited again, dropped to the ground, and experienced another convulsion. She was eventually placed in an ambulance, where she was transported to a hospital for treatment and evaluation. During the transport, she continually asked if she was alive or dead and if what was happening was real. Rangers remained at the hospital until she returned to a coherent state. Both the man and woman were issued violation notices for using a controlled substance. The driver was released to the custody of his father. The 911 call actually originated from the couple, who were concerned that they were already dead.

"It's too hot in Canyonlands for Bigfoot, and too dry for mushrooms to grow. Once, however, a visitor vehemently insisted that ravens did not exist in North America and that all our ravens
HAD TO BE crows."

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An equally entertaining submission from last month described a “guide” who had taken 31 people on a multi-day search for Bigfoot — inside a national park. The expedition fees ($300-500 per person) more than covered his measly $525 fine for guiding without a permit. They did not find a Sasquatch.

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April 10, 2012

Horseshoe Bend

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:19 am
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South of the Glen Canyon Dam a few miles, this meander in the Colorado River bends back on itself in a dramatic display of erosion's effects.

The canaigre is blooming!
(Other names for it: dock, wild rhubarb)

Near Page, Arizona, the Colorado River makes a huge bowknot bend. From an overlook on the mesa top, one can appreciate the force of moving water over eons of time, scouring the canyon walls. Some day it will cut through that peninsula of rock.

I had no wide-angle lens, sadly, but I think you get the gist of this view. River: 3200 feet. Overlook: 4200 feet. Easy half-mile trail from parking area.

April 7, 2012

Navajo National Monument

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:26 am
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The alcoves in this deep canyon hold ancient villages. Douglas Fir and aspen populate the shaded areas -- not your typical Arizona desert trees.

Tucked away in deep canyons in the northern Arizona desert, ruined villages of ancestral Puebloans lie vacated — but not empty. After all the hubbub of our day in Antelope Canyon, Tara and I wanted to find a place to lay our heads that was quiet and restful.  Ninety minutes’ drive brought us at sunset to a small jewel of a National Monument that filled the bill. Delightedly, we found that there was no entrance fee for this lovely place.

The campground occupies a pinyoned knoll — all quiet and, much to our surprise, also free. The tent went up in minutes. Leaving the rain fly off ensured that we’d see lots of stars from our 7300-foot perch. After a cup of mint tea, we burrowed into our sleeping bags and studied all our park literature by headlamp before drifting off. I dreamed of kivas and potshards.

Friday dawned cool and clear and full of promise. The park brochure described FREE (!!!) ranger-led half-day tours to the Betatakin ruins, an exciting offer to two archaeology-oriented visitors with tons of questions. Alas… full staffing begins May 27 this year, and tours won’t be available until then. (Chapter 133 of “Budget issues create disappointment.”)

To take the sting away, we perused every incredible artifact in the visitor center’s displays and worked with the ranger to plan our return for the 17-mile overnight backpacking hike to Keet Seel. This best-preserved ruin requires permits (20/day maximum); a ranger actually lives out at the ruin site for a week straight in order to conduct guided visits. MY KIND OF TRIP.

Three short overlook hikes whetted our appetites for what will come. The ancestral people built stunning masonry villages in picturesque alcoves, which shall be thoroughly explored under our own power this summer.

April 5, 2012

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 3:06 pm
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Are not these some of the most soothing colors imaginable???
Lower seems a bit lighter than Upper.

Somewhat traumatized by my visit to Upper Antelope Canyon, I asked travel buddy Tara whether we ought to give Lower Antelope a look. Both of us were on the fence, but the scales tipped in favor of a tour as we wanted to give the area all the chances possible. Let’s face it: it’s deliciously beautiful. We figured we could put up with idiosyncrasies of most kinds.

Well. My humble opinion is that Lower AC is gorgeous in its own right, but is relegated to “country cousin” status when compared with glitzier Upper AC. Upper has those scrumptious midday light beams that draw photographers. Upper has fleets of gussied-up trucks shuttling tourists to and fro. Upper has guides in matching black T-shirts for ease of identification. Upper costs twice as much.

Both have sinuous curves that draw your eye along and invite your hands to reach out and touch the sandstone. Both have a space that feels other-worldly. Both take your breath away.

This is what a slot canyon looks like from the OUTSIDE. A narrow crack in the earth, unobtrusive... and beckoning. (See footprints leading in.)

Lower has a humble kiosk selling permits and tickets, with a guitar-playing guy behind the counter. As it was late in the day, only three of us were on the tour, and the remaining guide was an amiable Navajo youth in his mid-teens who took us in on foot. His specialty was pointing out images in the rock: there’s Bruce the Shark! see Darth Vader? look, a Transformer. His specialty was NOT in interpreting the canyon. He did tell me their belief that if you are too much in the canyon, you will lose your hearing, as the canyon represents the ear passage. I so wanted to know other facts about their culture, but he had no answers, not even what the canyon’s name was in Navajo, or whether the tribe considered this area different from the rest of their land.

<sigh>

We were glad we went, but found ourselves desperately wishing for a guide who could help us make emotional and intellectual connections with the site. I’m sure they exist.

Our cameras don’t lie; the slot in the earth is beautiful. If you go, go to both Upper and Lower.

March 25, 2012

Shards, shards, shards

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:52 am
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Black-on-White pottery shards at San Juan County, Utah, ruin site.
Note that some have painted rims.

Tingling with excitement, I traced the faint path toward a red rock outcrop. On all sides, evidence of ancient occupancy lay exposed. Old masonry walls, now reduced to heaps of rubble overgrown with grass, rose from the hillside in silent testimony to the ancestral Puebloans who lived here. A Rock Wren serenaded our quiet traverse, much as I envision Rock Wrens of the 13th century may have done by some other name. At my feet were pottery shards of every imaginable design; I felt like a kid in a candy shop, stooping, picking up, rubbing the dirt off, and replacing. An involuntary gasp would escape when I found a particularly bright or unusual bit, colors fresh, edges sharp. It is impossible for me to hold a piece of an old bowl and not ask myself questions about its owner.

Corrugated ware, a more durable everyday ceramic, was used for cooking. It was made by coiling thin snakes of clay, pressing them together with an antler, and polishing the inside with a smooth stone.

In my dreams, I am wandering in awe and wonder at a site and find an intact artifact. Of course, the likelihood of that happening is nil, as every one of these areas has been looted by pot-hunters. I’d settle for finding a vessel in pieces that could  be jigsaw-puzzled back together. Even that won’t happen. I was sincerely overjoyed this day to put my boot down on the ground and have to watch where I was walking; the density of shards was breathtaking. (See smallest photo.)

Untouched dense scatter of potshards with my boot for scale.

Archaeological note: I collected pieces for these photographs but released them all back to their resting places. Two were particularly dear and hard to let go, but I found special places to hide them so they wouldn’t be trampled by others who find their way to this obscure hilltop location where ancestors eked out their living 800 years ago.

March 10, 2012

Sneak preview

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:41 am
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Sunrise from White Crack -- the most coveted campsite on the White Rim Road, for obvious reasons.

Two hundred fifteen photos and 130 sinuous miles later, our breathtaking 3-day backcountry trip is finished. Due to the imminent arrival of a very special guest — my daughter — I am taking a short hiatus from blogging. Here is a photo, however, that I hope conveys the essence of the wilderness protected by Canyonlands National Park. Every footstep I take in this place deepens my love of it, and my commitment to preserving it for future generations. Please enjoy; I hope this whets your appetite for upcoming posts that shall be published as soon as the dust settles.

March 3, 2012

When the desert sun doesn’t shine

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:58 pm
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Clouds & blackbrush. North of La Sal Mountain Viewpoint, Arches National Park, Utah.

Winter yucca

Our training day for natural history took us out in the storm-ish morning. A front was passing through Arches National Park; the chill air didn’t bother us unless we stopped too long to listen to a talk about grasses, or amphibians, or water quality. I was taking photos as the light changed by the minute, trying to capture the day’s feel. No special lens, no special camera, just a very special mood courtesy of filtered clouds and mists. I hope you enjoy these shots from one of Arches’ loveliest locales, Courthouse Towers.

Three Gossips & Sheep Rock. Courthouse Towers, Arches NP.

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